The Latest is the Crossroads Chronicle’s weekly overview of changes and updates to the status of COVID-19 in Southern Jackson County. Check back each week for the most up-to-date virus statistics and shutdown information.
Governor’s office announces plan
The state-wide shutdowns for COVID-19 have been extended through May 8, adding an additional eight days at least to Governor Roy Cooper’s Stay-Home order and the restrictions put in place for business operations.
On April 23, Cooper issued an executive order officially extending the previous Stay-Home mandates, saying the state needs to take a calculated approach to relaxing restrictions. He also outlined some components of what that might look like in coming weeks and months.
“North Carolina cannot stay home indefinitely,” he said. “We have to get more people back to work. Right now, the decision to stay home is based on the public health data and White House guidance. North Carolina needs more time to slow the spread of this virus before we can safely begin lifting restrictions.”
When restrictions are lifted, Cooper said there would be a three-phase plan implemented over the course of several months, with certain benchmarks defined to ensure the plan is working as intended.
Before restrictions begin to lift, the order requires improvement in the following metrics:
- Sustained leveling or decreased trajectory in COVID-Like Illness surveillance over 14 days. North Carolina has seen a downward trend in the past 14 days in this metric.
- Sustained leveling or decreased trajectory of lab-confirmed cases over 14 days. North Carolina has seen an upward trend in this metric in the last 14 days, although the rate of increase is slowing.
- Sustained leveling or decreased trajectory in percent of tests returning positive over 14 days. North Carolina has seen a slow, upward trend in this metric over the past 14 days.
As of press time, only one of the three criteria for relaxing restrictions has been met. Once all three are met, though, the state will move to the next phase of the process.
In the first phase of the plan, the order will relax restrictions on travel for non-essential commercial activity, like visiting clothing stores, book stores and other similar retailers.
The order also calls for strict sanitization protocols in newly reopened industries, maintains existing six-foot social distancing standards and guidance on wearing masks in public places. Phase one continues to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
Parks that have been closed based on the limited gatherings policy will also reopen in phase one.
At least two weeks after phase one is implemented, the state can move on to phase two if all of the criteria have been met in that time.
In phase two, the Stay-Home order will be lifted but vulnerable populations will be strongly advised to continue staying at home.
Many other businesses and facilities will be allowed to reopen on a full or limited basis, including entertainment venues, churches, restaurants, fitness centers, personal care services and others. Public playgrounds will also reopen, and restrictions on the number of people allowed at gatherings will loosen somewhat.
At least four weeks after phase two is implemented, assuming the criteria for moving forward continue to be met, the state can move on to phase three.
In phase three, restrictions for vulnerable populations will loosen with recommendations to continue social distancing as much as possible.
Phase three will also see an increase to capacity at bars, restaurants, gyms and other large social gathering places and further reduce the restrictions on gathering sizes.
The governor’s plan also emphasizes the need to continue increasing capacity for testing, contact tracing of those who may be at risk for infection and an increase in the supply of personal protective equipment for those interacting with the public.
By the numbers
The Jackson County Department of Public Health’s daily COVID-19 testing update reported 20 positive tests to-date out of 567 tests performed in the county. Of those 20 confirmed cases, 12 were reported to be full-time or seasonal residents of Jackson County and eight were non-residents who were tested in a Jackson County facility.
The United States is drawing nearer to 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 928,619 confirmed positive tests recorded so far and 52,459 deaths as of April 27. Statewide, there have been 9,142 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 306 deaths in that same timeframe.
According to Governor Cooper’s most recent executive order, a composite modeling forecast estimates approximately 250,000 North Carolinians will be infected with the novel coronavirus by the end of May, even if social distancing measures continue unchanged.
Neighbors lifting restrictions
While North Carolina remains under a relatively strict lockdown, some neighboring states have already begun to lift restrictions of their own. Last week, Georgia’s governor announced major reductions in business and travel restrictions, and Tennessee appears poised to make similar changes.
Despite Jackson County’s proximity to the state line, Jackson County interim County Manager Heather Baker said there should be little concern about an influx of out-of-state residents traveling across the border.
“Our stay home order is still in place, and I think the most important thing about that is that no non-essential travel is allowed,” Baker said. “So even if people can move around freely in Georgia or South Carolina, they would be in violation of that order if they came here for a non-essential reason.”
Remote learning continues
Public schools in North Carolina were previously closed through May 15, prompting rapid adoption of remote learning platforms for students across the state. Those closures have been extended at least through the end of the school year, according to a release issued by the Governor’s Office.
“The decision to finish the year by remote learning was not made lightly, but it is the right thing to do to protect our students, teachers and communities,” Cooper said in the release. “This is a difficult time for many children and parents, and I am grateful for all the educators, administrators, support staff and parents who have gone the extra mile to keep children learning.”